Saints Linebacker Group a Mystery Outside of Demario Davis

Demario Davis anchors a Saints linebacker group that has a big opening up for grabs.
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We're only a week away from the first Saints training camp practice session, and reporting is right around the corner for New Orleans. It's an exciting time across the NFL, as all 32 teams are preparing for the upcoming season. We've been previewing various positions on the team, and check in on the linebacking unit for today.

Previous Entries: Cornerback | Safety | Special Teams

Linebacker Depth Chart

  • Demario Davis
  • Pete Werner
  • Zack Baun
  • Kaden Elliss
  • Wynton McManis
  • Andrew Dowell
  • Chase Hansen
  • Shaq Smith
  • Quentin Poling
  • Marcus Willoughby
Saints sack Foles

Demario Davis continues to be one of the league's most underrated linebackers

Starting Cornerstone

Demario Davis is one of the most underrated linebackers and players in the NFL, and his contract value is incredible. Davis has really found a home in New Orleans, and has easily become one of the team's best assets on defense. He played just four snaps less than Malcolm Jenkins last year, logging 1,032 plays (98.7 percent).

Turning 32 in January, Davis is primed for another big season on the Saints defense. With Drew Brees officially out of the picture, he's the definitive heart and soul guy in the pre-game huddle. Whether he's run-stopping, rushing the passer, or dropping in coverage, he's become a solid staple for Dennis Allen.

Wanted: Partner In Crime

Finding Davis an answer to pair alongside him is no easy feat, and the team's recent visit with Kwon Alexander was a bit interesting. The Saints invested a second round pick in Ohio State's Pete Werner, and they are moving Zack Baun to weakside linebacker to compete as well. For now, those two are the main competition for the job.

“Who will line up beside me? I think the jury is still out on that," Davis said in early July

"It will be up to the coaches to figure that out. I know and I trust our organization that they will put the best player in that position but overall, our defense is sound. We’ve got a phenomenal defensive line coached by a great coach. Our linebacker position will be sound because Mike Hodges has been phenomenal since day one and our back end is locked up.”

New Orleans desperately needs the right answer there, and even if they bring Alexander back, the big question will be if he can go a full 17-game season and the playoffs.

Depth and Opportunity

The reserve linebacker spots are up for grabs, and anything can happen there for the Saints. Kaden Elliss would have the best leg up on the competition currently, given his familiarity with the defense and special teams work. However, Chase Hansen is one to keep an eye on. If he can get past some of the injury woes, he could have a larger role on the team.

Something small to ponder is who takes over for Craig Robertson on special teams. He led the team with 360 reps (79.1 percent) last season.

The Unknown

Wynton McManis was brought in for a brief spell last year, but was waived prior to the start of the season. He got picked back up on a reserve/future deal in January, and has actually started his career back in 2016 with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent. McManis then spent a few seasons in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders.

Quentin Poling has been in the league since 2018, being originally drafted by the Dolphins in the 7th Round. The Saints are his sixth team. Andrew Dowell spent 2020 on the team's practice squad, and was even called up for their regular season finale against the Panthers, but that was it. Marcus Willoughby was added to the team's practice squad last year, and was actually a defensive end with the Ravens. He's listed as a linebacker on the team site.

Finally, Shaq Smith joined the team as an undrafted rookie out of Maryland. I checked him out some in early May, and this is what I saw.

Limited film, but shows signs as a pass rusher and run-stopper. One play he diagnoses and gets to the ball adequately, and then others looks a bit robotic and isn't smooth. Injuries were his biggest concern.

One of these players has an opportunity to be a dark horse to make the roster, but they are all truly 'wait and see' players.

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